Sometime before 1993, actual chicken and actor Cluck Wingston walked onto Stage 14 of the 20th Century Fox Studios on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles. He was anxious, clacking a cheap Zippo lighter open and shut. The stage hummed with heat. Cluck’s big scene was coming up, so he fidgeted. He stretched his spindly legs; kicked a fat, mesh cord on the ground. His script was rolled up like a cigar and stuffed into his posterior feathers. Wingston waited.
What followed was the filming of a scene that would change Cluck C. (middle name “Chicken”) Wingston’s life forever. Topper Harley (played by two-time Global Human Award-winning actor Charlie Sheen), out of arrows for his immense bow, was scripted to fire Wingston—like any other arrow—directly into the chest of a terrorist.
It was Wingston’s look of shocked surprise as he sailed inexorably through the air that converted millions to the chicken actor’s fandom. The American Film Institute (AFI) called it “the funniest thing in cinema since Steven Spielberg’s raucous comedy, A.I,” and the chicken currently holds a perfect IMDB StarMeter score. In the scene’s final moments, his beak buried deep in the terrorist’s dead heart, Wingston gives a muffled crow, then pops out a pristine white egg. His egg marked an important moment in the history of slapstick comedy: The death of the rubber chicken. The chicken actor was born.
It’s an iconic scene, one that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has scheduled to be placed into the Great Film Vault before the onslaught of the upcoming Water Wars of 2019. After the global success of Hot Shots, Wingston disappeared. He has rarely been seen—certainly not in public—since the 90’s. It wasn’t until Bright Wall/Dark Room tracked his movements to a bucolic, tiny home in Banff National Park that Cluck committed to sit for an interview.
BW/DR made travel arrangements and met Wingston in Los Angeles, at Silver Lake’s popular coffee spot, Intelligentsia. The following is BW/DR’s tense, raw, and exclusive transcript of the first sit-down with Cluck Wingston in more than a decade. (Warning: Coarse language is occasionally used in this interview)[clanging of cups, chairs pulling out from the table]
BW/DR: Oh great, did you get the Angeleno?
CLUCK WINGSTON: Yes I did. It’s very foamy.
CLUCK WINGSTON: Shit. Sorry. Spilled some. It’s hard for me to hold mugs.
BW/DR: That’s fine—we’ll edit that out. I’m actually already recording, so why don’t we just jump into it.
So! It’s amazing to have you with us, Cluck. Thanks so much for coming to Los Angeles.
CLUCK WINGSTON: Thanks for flying me in.
BW/DR: We’re just excited to finally getting to sit down with you—I guess it’s been over a decade?
CLUCK WINGSTON: (laughs) Yes, I guess it has.[sound of distant cars screeching in road, honking]
BW/DR: Not to be blunt, but…where have you been?
CLUCK WINGSTON: Well, it’s been an interesting path. After Hot Shots, I sort of just hit the pavement. I felt a lot of pressure—I was just worn down. I had bags under my eyes for the longest time, and a really bad back from the chicken lecture circuit. The spot light was too strong. I just had to get off the road for a while. Chickens have been in films for years, but just playing chickens. You know?
CLUCK WINGSTON: With Hot Shots, I became something bigger, something more, and I was good. Really good. But I revealed myself on camera, and that was brutal. That’s what made life hard.
BW/DR: Why was it hard?
CLUCK WINGSTON: For starters, I felt like I was creating problems in other people’s lives, which trickled down to my life. I remember a few months after the film got big, I was eating at BJ’s Pizza in Burbank. A server recognized me. He was carrying two pizzas at the time, and he got all star-struck, and one of the pizzas flew out of his hand. It slid under the foot of a chef, who happened to be walking by and a carrying a big knife, and the chef pizza-skied across the floor. He was wildly chopping at the air to stop his fast movement, chopping and chopping, and he cut a rope that was holding up a chandelier. No idea why the chandelier was so flimsily tied, but it fell on a woman’s head and she crashed into a multi-tiered dessert cart. Her body crushed a whole wedding cake like it was nothing. She was in the hospital for 10 months. I had to pay for her rehab.
BW/DR: Well, I feel like that’s the price you pay for being a public figure.[Seconds of silence]
CLUCK WINGSTON: OK. Well, sure, I guess? I’m not sure.
BW/DR: I just mean—you have to know you’re taking that risk going into the life.
CLUCK WINGSTON: It’s kind of a big fucking leap from getting your picture taken by thePapparazz [paparazzi] to a woman being put in the hospital. Don’t you think? Don’t you think you’re being a little glib?
BW/DR: I’m sorry. I’m sorry if I offended you.
CLUCK WINGSTON: Sure. Fine. (bangs table)[Clanging of cups, awkward silence for nearly five minutes]
CLUCK WINGSTON: It’s just, you don’t seem sorry.
BW/DR: Listen—let’s move on.
CLUCK WINGSTON: Now I don’t want to move on.
BW/DR: Why don’t we get through the interview?
CLUCK WINGSTON: You know what? This is just some pageview-getting bullshit. I think I’d like to leave.
BW/DR: Wait, no. Seriously?[Sound of table creaking, glass crashes to concrete]
BW/DR: Hey! Cluck–[Sound of Cluck running into road, cars coming to screeching halt. Sound of reporter screaming Cluck’s name]
BW/DR: (Sarcastically into the tape) I guess we’ll cut—
Following the interview, Wingston was seen in and around LA for a few days. According toVariety, he was photographed at LAX, in a heavy scarf and sunglasses, boarding a plane back to Canada. Attempts to contact Wingston have since gone unreturned.
In 2018, The AMPAS plans to place the original negative of Wingston’s scene into The Great Vault before the Earth’s projected destruction. The reel will join a museum of comedic treasures containing some of the world’s most hilarious clips, including a scene from Part Deux where Saddam Hussein runs into a bug zapper; a scene where a villain blows up a boat by firing into a box of jalapenos; and a brilliant scene from the original Hot Shots (1991) wherein Lloyd Bridges falls out of the door of a landed plane after proudly saluting. The vault’s goal is to preserve the funniest moments in movie history—the ones that make you laugh now as much as they did when you were a kid—until the end of the road.
Nick Rallo lives in Dallas, and writes about burgers, fast foods and occasionally a music thing for the Dallas Observer. His work has appeared in the The LA Weekly, Passion of the Weiss, and Houston Press.